So it begins

Masked Dundalk Elementary School students return to the school building this August, marking their return to full five-day, in-person learning after the first year of the pandemic kept schools fully or partially closed.

Students will go back into public schools for in-person classes after winter break ends, amid a massive surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant of the virus, Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl L. Williams announced Thursday evening.

School sports and other extracurricular activities taking place during the first week back from the winter break are being postponed, though, the superintendent wrote in the Dec. 30 letter, so schools can ramp up weekly COVID-19 testing for students who are not vaccinated against the virus.

The school system is also attempting to set up school-based vaccination clinics, and getting outfitted with masks and tests for schools with outbreaks from the virus.

The announcement comes as a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant tears through the world. Baltimore County added over 1,700 positive cases Wednesday, the most cases recorded a single day within the county throughout the pandemic.

Announcing the plan to keep schools in-person, Williams noted the school system may move "individual schools or groups of schools to virtual learning after reviewing a number of factors," such as high rates of transmission of the virus in certain schools.

In sticking with in-person learning, the county school system remains in line with state guidance to keep school buildings open, Williams noted in the letter.

"There is strong consensus from researchers that schools can and should stay open for in-person instruction and that school leaders must use every tool at their disposal to do so given the adverse effects closures have on students and their families," state Superindendent Mohammed Choudhury said in a statement last week, announcing that state school officials would only support full school systems going back to virtual learning "only on a case-by-case basis under the most exigent of circumstances and in close consultation with State and local health departments."